Monday, June 9, 2008

Web watchdogs can definitely bite

The Wall Street Journal outed several chains this weekend for switching to smaller beer glasses without adjusting prices or otherwise letting on. You’d think that’d trigger a fit of spin-doctoring from the likes of Hooters, GameWorks, Damon’s and Romano’s Macaroni Grill, but they wisely offered nothing more than the few qualifiers and no-comment that were included in the article. Even then, they came within a maraschino cherry stem of being sentenced to eternal avoidance by the modern-day equivalent of vigilantes: Web habitués who share a fanatical cause. In the era of the keyboard-empowered consumer, reckless indeed is the consumer brand that tries to pull one over on patrons, especially when it comes to value.

The situation is nearly a perfect homily as to why. The Journal, after all, was merely a messenger, relaying the lynch-mob talk that the chains and other beer-serving establishments had frothed up by switching from true pint glasses, capable of holding roughly 16 ounces of brew, to variations with a thicker glass bottom that leaves room for only 14 ounces. The motivation is obvious: With grain prices driving up the cost of beer, cagy operators are holding the price of their standard tap serving while slyly providing less beer.

As the article noted, consumers are catching on, and fast. Seven months months ago, a college researcher with a blog called Beervana started what he dubbed The Honest Pint Project, whereby he’d push for a full 16-ounce tap beer by publishing the names of drinking establishments in his native Portland, Ore., that offer a serving of at least that volume.

The parent of the Honest Pint Project, identified in the Journal article as Jeff Alworth, has raised his ambitions since then. “I will support a statutory change if it comes to that—and maybe it should,” he wrote in a blog installment posted today.

Yet Alworth sounds like an aggravated PTA member compared with the hops panthers who offered their comments, suggestions and assessments on “So if there’s a beer bar on this site that has recently adopted this practice, can we call them out?,” asks a poster identified as guzzle211, who joked that he was already lighting a torch.

“What would it take to get legislation passed with regard to this? How did they do it in other countries?,” asks Josquin.

It goes without saying that establishments switching to what a Journal source dubbed “falsies” shouldn’t try to deceive patrons about the change (for the record: GameWorks said a mistake in glassware was made at a single unit, only franchised Hooters units offered the smaller glasses, Damon’s does not deny the change, and Romano’s had no comment). Risking the alienation of longstanding customers over two ounces of tap beer is crazy enough. Amplify that by the speed of gripe on the internet and there’s no doubt about the glass being half-empty.

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Anonymous Orrick Nepomuceno said...

It doesn't surprise me that the chains are trying to react to surging food costs while keeping margins in check. But it also doesn't surprise me that the web has become a place for consumer advocacy. Right or wrong, press can spread about your company across the internet like wildfire.

June 10, 2008 at 7:50 AM  
Anonymous steakman said...

Wanted: new marketing director fro hooters. Job Description: Must know how may ounces in pint. Must know something about horse racing before gambling thousands of marketing dollars on hooking Hooters to the big brown bandwagon just before the 9th place finish.

Sincerely, Steakman

June 10, 2008 at 9:13 AM  

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